Four years after the Iranian Revolution, three years after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Carter Doctrine, the Persian Gulf is no longer so much in the news. Many dire predictions were made in the wake of the double crisis of 1979. Some, looking at the collapse of the local security system and the vulnerability of the West's oil supplies to interference, saw in the Soviet military action an imminent military threat to the Gulf and a pattern for future Soviet involvement in this region. Many also doubted that the regime in Iran would last and foresaw a growing Soviet influence in its revolutionary politics.

With hindsight such fears appear overdrawn. The Soviet invasion did not necessarily constitute a deliberate step toward or herald imminent military action in the Gulf. The Iranian regime has proven less brittle and more tenacious than expected, making its control by any outside power difficult. At the time, however, the West's reaction to both Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolution was uneven, concentrating on the military threat posed by the U.S.S.R. to the region and, in the public debate, primarily on the issue of oil supplies. The two crises precipitated a panic, resulting in a disorderly reaction by oil companies and consumers which led to a virtual tripling of the price of oil.

Although these two events followed closely upon one another, they were not causally related. To be sure, the collapse of Iran and the subsequent hostage issue focused Western attention on it, facilitating Soviet activity in Afghanistan. The invasion, while not necessarily the pattern for future expansion, was one logical result of an incrementalist Soviet policy that came to equate security with control. Iran, also in turmoil and revolution, was different from Afghanistan in several respects, not least in the Soviet calculus of risks and opportunities which arose from continuing Western attention to Iran. The invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet troops, while making similar action in Iran more difficult, also makes the exercise of Soviet pressure on Iran easier.

Today the tendency to misconstrue and understate the nature of the Soviet threat to the region may be as significant as earlier overstatements. It is reassuring to argue that Soviet involvement in Afghanistan demonstrates its failure, its inability to influence through example, or to compete in peacetime, and reflects its utter ignorance or contempt for the tribalism, religiosity and individualism of the Afghans-the result of which is an embroilment in a domestic political imbroglio from which it has no attractive or even viable exit. Sucked into an unwinnable war, an atheistic superpower is spending its substance, while tarnishing its credentials in the Islamic and nonaligned constituencies. In this interpretation the invasion is a defeat which should be added to the costs of Soviet overextension elsewhere (Cuba, Vietnam), an unstable Eastern Europe, and domestic problems ranging from demography to agriculture, from corruption to consumer needs.

Applied to the Middle East, this interpretation combines Soviet deficiencies with regional obstacles. The former allegedly include handicaps such as uncompetitive technology, atheism, and, sometimes, plain incompetence. Regional obstacles include the weakness and poverty of genuine Soviet allies, combined with their obstinate will to autonomy and nationalism. In this view, regional politics are deeply resistant to the simple exercise of Soviet influence because of the resurgence of Islamic consciousness, the fragmentation of the Arab world, the difficulty of reconciling commitments to fractious allies, and the complexity of tribalism.

Applied to the Iranian Revolution, this interpretation would stress the inherent problems involved in seeking to influence a society in turmoil during a period of national redefinition. It would emphasize the exceptional characteristics of Islamic resurgence in Iran, the rejection of the Western "model" and dependence, and the quest for a new national order consonant with the indigenous culture. In this view the safest prediction is continued uncertainty-which in itself may prove a barrier to Soviet influence.

There is much that is valid in this approach, but it reveals more of Western than it does of Soviet perspectives; Soviet calculations about overextension or regional obstacles (and even the burden of military expenditures) are assumed, and the logical implications of restraint and consolidation are inferred. Regional complexities may deter, but they may also invite intensified involvement; and over-extension may argue for a massive (final) push toward absolute consolidation rather than retrenchment. To impute to the Soviet Union similar values, to project Western perspectives onto Soviet policymakers, particularly in third areas, is not a prudent basis for Western policy.

This tendency in the United States-first to exaggerate the imminence of a Soviet "threat" and then, from relief at its failure to materialize in the given period, to discount it altogether-stems from a lack of historical memory and, in this case, experience in the area. Emphasis on changes, interpretations that see current configurations as basic transformations, and analyses that talk of Soviet "advances" or "failures" miss the continuities of Soviet policy in the region. There is a shallow and mistaken tendency to add Iran (or Turkey) to the Arab world and to see Soviet policy toward the Islamic-Arab world in an undifferentiated way.1

Yet Soviet interests in the adjacent states are paramount, longstanding, and will survive alleged setbacks in Lebanon. Russian interest in its southern borders antedates the discovery of oil and will surely outlive its passing. Whether to widen its buffer for security purposes in Iran, increase its means of influence, or improve its broader strategic situation "in the direction of the Persian Gulf" by access to the Southwest Asian landmass, open seas and, more recently, oil, Russian history testifies to a continuing interest in the Gulf. Western vulnerability is a new bonus that gives the U.S.S.R. potential leverage, while Soviet-bloc future energy needs add a new incentive for according the region high priority.

Soviet policy in the region is complex and ambivalent, motivated both by calculations of profit and damage limitation, of opportunism and conservatism. This dualism is evident in almost all Soviet policy, but its precise manifestation and mix depend on specific circumstances, including the degree of Soviet stake (or commitment), the receptivity of the region (or target-state) and the prevalent correlation of forces. Abstract general propositions are useless as these factors vary over time and from issue to issue. What is clear is that Soviet policies have no fixed blueprints; nor are they random affairs: there is a discernible pattern of tactical opportunism.

Proximity, persistence and implacability account, in my judgment, for its strengths. By an indirect policy, using all its instruments of power and influence, the U.S.S.R. can take incremental steps that are difficult to deter and whose reversal cannot always be left to regional forces. A willingness to hedge by supporting several (often competing) sides-as in the Iran-Iraq, Syria-Iraq, or North-South Yemen conflicts (as well as the opposition within North Yemen)-guarantees some Soviet influence and participation in issues which affect the region's politics. It may also yield embarrassments and setbacks, but these are the products of both power and a willingness to play the murky politics of the region. After all, influence-building is, in Professor Alvin Rubinstein's phrase, "an untidy business."

A willingness, indeed an insistence on being involved, does not guarantee success: "gains" are neither irreversible nor always advantageous. The dire predictions of 1980 have not, after all, been borne out. Yet the issue of Soviet imperial expansion will be no less important in the future, for all the current emphasis on the "constraints" operating upon it.

Iran in particular will remain a geopolitical prize (or booby-trap), whatever its political complexion. It remains a special case, isolated, militarily weak and in the throes of a turmoil whose outcome is uncertain. Like a willful adolescent, the Islamic Republic seems intent on making up for its period of enforced tranquillity with a paroxysm of self-expression. Its strategic location will invite the interest, and its instability will provide the opportunities, for mischief-making by other powers. The Persian Gulf, which Iran dominates geographically and demographically, will remain the major source of oil in world trade and become increasingly important by the end of the century.

Iran is not typical of countries outside the two blocs. But the overlapping interests in Iran of the two superpowers and blocs will make it the single most important touchstone of East-West relations in the Third World. It will constitute a test of Soviet behavior toward a neighbor and of America's ability to manage relations with both the U.S.S.R. and a volatile Third World state in a region of strategic importance. Precisely because the trends within Iran, and Soviet policy toward Iran, yield no clear picture, it is important to keep the region under close observation.

In the following pages, I will first examine the evolution of politics in Iran and its impact on Gulf security; second, discuss Soviet policy toward Iran; third, analyze the prospects for Soviet influence and the likely evolution of Iran's politics; and, finally, make some observations regarding Western policy.


The Iranian Revolution came as a surprise to most observers of the Middle East, who had become conditioned to look for military coups motivated by secular (and sometimes socialist) ideologies, not a mass uprising in the name of Islam. Precisely what this uprising entailed, in terms of actual practice, became clearer in the years following the installation of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as the national coalition forged in the white heat of opposition melted away. In successive stages, the clergy under Khomeini, in alliance with the urban lumpen-proletariat, shed its erstwhile partners-the liberal intellectuals, the secular nationalists, the minorities and the left-moving inexorably toward a populist dictatorship.

As the drama of the revolution unfolded, the revolutionary script became that of the hero and not that which had impelled many to join the cast. Achieving consensus beyond slogans proved more difficult than some had imagined. The Shah had been accused of corruption, repression, insensitivity to the dispossessed and the wholesale despoiling of the country to foreign interests, of bad policies of development and overdependence on the West. Yet none of the opposition forces had expected the sudden collapse of the Imperial regime and none had prepared any program for government. As a result, policies after 1979 were increasingly divorced from the reality of the nation's needs and revolved around factional quarrels and political theater.

With the hostage crisis, anti-Americanism was manipulated to precipitate a second revolution. Suppression of the Kurds, official terrorism against the opposition (clerical or secular), and the export of the revolution into Iraq intensified. The formal trappings of elections and referenda were maintained but emptied of content by intimidation, restrictions and reinterpretations. By mid-1980, one sympathetic observer noted, the state was paralyzed, unemployment rife and the foreign exchange reserves depleted, while complaints against an already divided clergy were daily increasing.2 This was before either the war with Iraq or the decimation of the leadership of the Islamic Republican Party, the dominant "political party," in bomb attacks by the Mujahedeen in mid-1981.

Politics in Iran continue to be best understood in terms of personalities and factions rather than issues or programs, although these last have surfaced more recently. And revolutionary politics have been animated by a continuing struggle for power among the various clerical factions; repression of the opposition, particularly the Mujahedeen but also the Kurds, the Qashqais, the Bahais, monarchists, and others; and attempts to maintain the élan and momentum of the revolution by emphasizing the need to export it and the threats to it lurking nearby.

Without any real cohesion in doctrine or organization, the regime has been unable to run the governmental machinery with any great effectiveness. Its primary concern has been with the bare essentials and the satisfaction of its core constituency: the mobs which it can mobilize for street politics. Inflation, unemployment, corruption and repression, one might have thought, would have brought the country to the edge of economic and spiritual ruin. The war with Iraq, now in its third year, has consumed one-tenth of the country's resources.3 Refugees from the war zone number 1.5 million, not counting another 100,000 Iranians formerly in Iraq.4 Teheran has recently allocated $1.2 billion for the reconstruction of the war zones as well as a further $4 billion for the continuation of the war in the coming year (March 1983-March 1984).

Despite the problems, Iran's economy has been functioning: basic necessities are available, and distribution and imports are adequate to the society's needs. In recent months the economy has improved due to an aggressive oil export policy which has tripled production since the start of the war, and Iran's willingness to discount below OPEC prices to increase its market share. With exports of some two million barrels per day in the last few months, enough income has been generated over and above imports (which total $1 billion monthly including arms) to build up foreign currency reserves.5

The regime's durability and resistance in the face of much adversity is attributable to two phenomena. First, it is a revolutionary regime based on the mobilization of a previously politically inert population. It can-uniquely-claim a mass mandate, a broad-based support which has repeatedly been tested. The regime probably still has the strongest popular base in the Islamic Middle East. Through the act of internal restructuring, it has tapped and liberated new energies which make it in some senses the most powerful and most formidably stable state in the region. As a result it possesses a resilience denied other regimes. After assassinations it regenerates itself; it thrives on crises, local opposition and internal war, external conflicts and "threats to the revolution." Riding high on its legitimacy, the regime is judged domestically by its aims, not its achievements.

Second, the revolution is an authentic indigenous expression of a diffuse malaise in the national psyche. The use of Islam as an ideology with a national appeal-leavened with class and cultural grievances-has enabled the clerics to establish, run and legitimize a political system wholly new to Islam. Buttressed by a nationwide network of mosques and mullahs, the regime is challenged by no competing ideology or movement of equal breadth and depth. This, together with the specific features of Shi'ism (particularly its mixture of passive fatalism and militant martyrdom) and Iranian political realities (religious programming and economic inducements combined with intimidation and liquidation), assures the regime a certain durability.

If this analysis is sound, it would be erroneous to apply normal criteria to an assessment of the regime's viability. Revolutions are not judged on their economic performance. Stringencies, whether arising from the war or mismanagement, will translate only slowly into political opposition. The economic burden of the war is manageable; it consumes people rather than money. The war has served its domestic functions, externalizing energies, excusing economic problems, occupying the armed forces, and justifying draconian measures against the "enemy within." Khomeini has expressed the strength of the regime simply:

If the motive behind this revolution and uprising had been similar to the motive of other movements and uprisings and had been aimed at achieving mundane and earthly things; if the motive had been to establish a lower cost of living . . . then those who want to complain [would be justified] . . . . Needless to say the people's masses have no complaint. . . . What you wanted was Islam; what you wanted was an Islamic republic; what you wanted was neither West nor East. All these objectives have been achieved.6


The revolution in Iran struck a responsive chord in the Islamic world, perhaps more with peoples than with governments. There was a great deal of sympathy for its initial impulse. Its example, the ability of Islam to articulate popular grievances and to act as a cohesive force in society, was a source of inspiration to many Muslims and a powerful reminder of the limits of temporal power and the need for popular accountability from their governments. The Islamic Republic's adherence to nonalignment and its support for the Palestinian cause were welcomed by the Islamic-Arab world, which had perceived the Shah's military acquisitions, pro-Western orientation and balanced relationship between Israel and the Arab states as threats.

The impact of the revolution on the Western-supported security structure in the Persian Gulf is well known. The Islamic Republic's militant and anti-Western posture, its espousal of the Palestinian cause, and its support for a rejectionist line toward Israel served to inhibit the conservative regimes in the Gulf. At the same time its refusal to accept "artificial distinctions" within the Islamic community, whether between Iranian and Arab, Shi'a and Sunni, appeals to a very broad constituency in the Middle East.

In practice Iran's foreign policy has not been a coherent one, fluctuating according to the domestic fortunes of its formulators. At times it has proclaimed fraternity with the Arab states, at other times has asserted Iran's primacy in the Gulf (and, since the revolution, has retained islands it inherited which are claimed by the Arabs). Sometimes it has appeared to be motivated by an interest in a wider Shi'ite constituency, as in its involvement in Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain. At other times pragmatism rules, as in its support for Syria against Iraq (both Ba'ath socialists) or acquisition of arms from Israel. Periodically, Iranians in the Gulf states or on their annual pilgrimage are exhorted to express themselves politically, resulting, for example, in pro-Khomeini demonstrations in Saudi Arabia and the deportation of 140 Iranian pilgrims in the fall of 1982. However, the active export of the revolution by the Iranian government is specifically disavowed.7 Iran's definition of "corrupt regimes" appears to have something to do with its general revisionism toward the status quo. Specifically, grievances against Iraq have been put into the broader Islamic-Arab context: "the road to Jerusalem lies through Baghdad."

Whether motivated by Islam, Shi'ism, revolution or Iranian nationalism, the Islamic Republic has become a greater force for regional disorder than the Shah ever was. And this without a modern military or a Western connection. The power it derives from its domestic structure is pervasive in that it emanates from an example or model which cannot be refuted and can only be discredited. Speaking to those who are uprooted, confused and alienated, particularly in states such as Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, where there are significant Iranian or Shi'ite "dispossessed" minorities, the Iranian model for seizing power may commend itself. In nearby countries, where the Iranian government can provide assistance, the risks that revolution may spread grow appreciably; the more so since Iran has shown, in Bahrain in December 1981, that it is not so preoccupied with its war against Iraq that it cannot provide a helping hand. Iran's political situation gives little cause for optimism over an early return to emphasizing domestic consolidation over external adventures-particularly as its leadership denies that these adventures are "external" to the concerns of the Islamic community.

In the Gulf, Iran's continuing conflict with Iraq, based now on a massed offensive, now on a strategy of political attrition within Iraq, raises the prospect of an eventual Iranian hegemony. Whether as an Iranian satrap or as a truncated rump-state, a humiliated, defeated Iraq, leading to a balkanized region, is a menacing possibility. This specter has galvanized the sheikhdoms into a measure of security coordination in the Gulf Cooperation Council. It has also accentuated countervailing trends, such as the strength of national loyalties and the cultural differences between Arabs and Iranians-as well as Sunni and Shi'a-that limit the potency of Iran's claims and appeal.

In the broader field of inter-Arab politics, Iran has sharpened existing divisions over priorities (Iran or Israel? Islam or Arabism?) and aggravated longstanding disputes (Syria versus Iraq). The parlous stability of all Arab regimes and inter-Arab differences make the achievement of an Arab consensus vis-à-vis Israel all the more difficult. And the Iranian Revolution both reflects and contributes to this instability. In all states governmental authority and legitimacy have been weakened, as the forces set loose by education, urbanization, the demographic profile and rapid change have disoriented traditional cultures and increased demands on governmental structures. Iran's support for the rejectionist states, Libya and Syria, and its unremitting hostility toward (and propaganda against) any Saudi proposals, whether the Fahd plan or in OPEC, completes the fragmentation of the Arab world.


With Iran's revolution a firmly pro-Western regime was replaced by a staunchly anti-American government. While it is not equally anti-Soviet, the successor cannot be called pro-Soviet either. Nevertheless, there has been a measure of overlap between its policies and Soviet interests, and the revolutionary process is not yet complete. In one view, it may thus provide many opportunities for Soviet advances and extensions of influence and so merits careful attention and a high degree of concern.

Against this is a second view that sees Iran's present relationship with the U.S.S.R. as largely a reflection of an intense anti-Americanism. It views Iran as staunchly nationalist-Islamic and resistant to Soviet influence or subversion. It can point to instances where Soviet interests have suffered at the hands of the revolution. It is more sanguine both about Iran's future and that of Soviet policy in Iran. The foundations of these respective interpretations need to be assessed.

There is little basis in its declaratory policy on which to fault the Islamic regime. Its self-conception is certainly of a unique regime insistent on striking a "negative equilibrium" between the superpowers. This has meant a policy that is supportive neither of West nor East, and implies a posture that minimizes contact with either bloc. Officials proudly assert that the Islamic Republic

. . . not only put an end to the oppressive domination of the West, but in the struggle to achieve real independence from the West, it never tilted towards the East.8

Soviet assistance to the revolutionary forces is specifically disavowed; indeed it is recalled that the Soviet Union criticized the Shah's opponents. Furthermore, the revolution, its spokesmen assert, is a challenge to Marxist ideology, which has tried to monopolize the concept of revolutionary change, and constitutes a "hurdle to Eastern colonialism, party dictatorship and exploitation through 'state capitalism' . . . .9 In a similar vein, Iranian officials tell Westerners: "You know we are the best protection you could have in this area against a Soviet takeover."10 Often officials equate the superpowers, alleging that they have joined together to "devour the world" and especially the developing countries.11

Iran's insistent autonomy is evident in other areas. Domestically, the Tudeh (Communist Party) has been generally tolerated (some argue for historical reasons12) but not given free rein. Occasionally its leaders have been arrested or forced into hiding, and its publications suspended. Recently some of the leaders were arrested on charges of spying for the Soviet Union-reflecting a deterioration in relations with the U.S.S.R. and a shift in the balance of power within the Iranian clergy. In the past the Tudeh's freedom has been conditional on support for the regime and, in practice, subject to constraints. Officials have occasionally referred to pro-Soviet leftists, "disguised as Muslims," who had infiltrated revolutionary institutions. The Majlis Speaker Rafsanjani had referred to the Tudeh's "very ugly record," which "has made it an ill-famed group."13

Similarly, one can point to Iranian opposition to the Soviet Union predating the Afghanistan invasion, and to its subsequent condemnations and continuing hostility-evidenced by a refusal to enter into discussions with the Kamal regime. Iran's preconditions for a settlement-unconditional Soviet withdrawal and the Afghanis' complete freedom of choice-are scarcely accommodating to Moscow. Beyond verbal opposition, Iran's tolerance of protests outside the Soviet Embassy in Teheran elicited strong notes of protest from Moscow in 1980 and 1982. In addition, some concrete assistance has been provided to the Afghan resistance and this commitment has been reaffirmed from time to time.14

Despite Iran's security problems, it has not yet become directly or significantly dependent on Soviet arms. Arms reaching it from the Eastern bloc, mainly North Korea, Syria and Libya, have been purchased indirectly. Iran has sought arms on the open market and from Western sources as well. Iranian officials point to their purchases of ammunition from both blocs; their restriction of larger acquisitions to smaller countries is intended to avoid excessive dependence on any one source. Reports of purchases from the Soviet Union are contradictory, but some Iranians seem to distinguish between arms (permissible) and advisers (unacceptable).15

As further evidence of Iran's autonomy, reference may be made to Iran's continued prosecution of the war against Iraq. The Soviet Union has consistently condemned the war as fratricidal, regionally divisive, a drain on Iran's resources, and potentially provocative to the West, which would use it to justify a military presence in the region. After the revolution and before the outbreak of war in September 1980, the Islamic Republic demanded as an indicator of Soviet goodwill a cessation of arms supplies to Iraq. In recent months Soviet supplies, which had been curtailed, have resumed, and Iranian criticisms have revived.16

The Islamic Republic, it could be observed, has not been excessively sensitive to Soviet interests either. It terminated a gas-supply agreement it had inherited on the grounds that the price to be paid by the U.S.S.R. was exploitative. It has not hesitated to expel Soviet representatives-in mid-1979 for spying and in January 1983 a Tass correspondent for "inadequate journalistic activity."17 It has curtailed and limited cultural activities between the two states, thereby eliciting Soviet criticism. It has also sought to diversify trade relations and especially to increase commerce with the Third World. (As a result, the share of imports from the less developed countries doubled in 1979-1981 to 18.5 percent of the total, while that from the industrialized OECD countries fell from 80 percent to 64 percent.) Finally, Iran's cultivation of ties with its pro-Western neighbors-Turkey and Pakistan-may be viewed as evidence of pragmatism, a trait which the Soviet Union is not keen to encourage in this context.

This summary, it could be argued, suggests that Iran, far from slipping under Soviet influence, has not spared the U.S.S.R. on some issues and has in fact retained a militant independence. But by itself this conclusion is inadequate for an appreciation of the situation, for there are areas in which the relationship has grown and issues on which Iranian reticence is remarkable.

It might have been supposed, for example, that the combination of past Soviet support for the Shah, strong commercial relations, military operations against co-religionists in an adjacent country and a large-scale military buildup on Iran's borders (not to mention instances in living memory of Russo-Soviet imperialism in Iran) would have disposed the fiercely independent Islamic regime to treat the Soviet atheists at least as harshly as the more distant Americans. Curiously, the political climate since the revolution has not permitted this. Bazargan lost his job as Prime Minister, Bani-Sadr was "considered suspect" for promoting equidistance between the superpowers, and Ghotbzadeh defamed as an "American agent" for seeking to maintain a negative balance. No such fate befell those promoting ties with the Soviet Union: Energy Minister Ghafuri Fard could refer to the U.S.S.R., in January 1982, as "a friendly country" without any apparent reaction.

In this climate of officially sponsored anti-Americanism, compared with only sporadic criticisms of the U.S.S.R., the achievement of a real balance between the two superpowers has been made difficult. In addition, there are numerous cases of Iranian indulgence of the U.S.S.R. The first ambassador received by Khomeini was Vladimir M. Vinogradov of the U.S.S.R. When foreign banks were nationalized, the Russo-Iran bank, the only bank exclusively foreign-owned, was exempted. When all secular political parties were banned, the Tudeh's activities were still permitted until January-February 1983. Iran has often shown uncharacteristic patience and restraint regarding Soviet activities in Afghanistan. It is a striking fact that criticisms of the U.S.S.R. were much more direct and authoritative before than after the invasion.

Indeed, Khomeini responded to the invasion lethargically, allowing six weeks to pass without comment. This attitude has sometimes informed Iran's diplomacy. In response to a Soviet protest over demonstrations in Teheran against the Soviet occupation, the foreign ministry could bring itself only to refer to "foreign forces" in Afghanistan-a Soviet formulation justifying its "defensive" invasion.18 When a Soviet offensive in Farah province in Afghanistan led to an incursion into Iran, the bombing of a town, and a resultant loss of 50 Afghan lives, news of the episode was sparse and the Iranians were apparently satisfied with the Soviet Union's immediate apology for the "error." Statements by Soviet officials that appear menacing toward Iran in their implications have also been ignored. Politburo member Geidar A. Aliyev, before his promotion, told Western visitors that whereas Soviet Azerbaijanis had developed their full potential, those in Iran had remained backward; it was his "personal" hope that the Azerbaijanis would be united in the future.19

Such restraint has also been evident in Iran's own behavior in Afghanistan, which contrasts with its verbal militance and indeed with what one might have supposed would have been a monument to Islamic solidarity. Iran has refused to allow a radio station in its territory for the Afghan resistance. Iranian assistance, directly and as a conduit for aid to Pakistan, has also declined. This may be due to Soviet pressure, if Soviet-bloc arms for the war with Iraq are made conditional on such limitations. Another indicator of a less than total commitment to nonalignment is the establishment with the U.S.S.R. of a listening station in Baluchistan, which enables the Soviets to assess activities on the Pakistan-Afghan border.20

However, it has been in the military-security domain that Iran's tilt toward the U.S.S.R. has been most pronounced. Iran's isolation has immeasurably facilitated this. From the start of the Islamic Republic Moscow urged that the regular armed forces be disbanded in favor of an armed popular militia, presumably because the military were considered Western-trained and therefore pro-Western. At the same time Moscow started to ingratiate itself with the regime by providing it with information-through the Tudeh-on those fomenting coups and conspiracies in the armed forces.21

Once the Iran-Iraq war started, Moscow clearly tilted in favor of Iran by warning of Iraq's impending attack; then supplying jet fuel by air-tanker; giving reassurances about its own military dispositions to enable Iranian redeployments to the southwest; and still later, providing tactical information derived from satellite photography.22 Though the Kremlin denies it, Moscow reportedly also offered at an early stage to supply arms directly, but the Iranians refused.

Sometime in mid-1981, however, the Iranians agreed to accept Soviet security assistance, presumably due to the exigencies of both the war front and the rising tide of bombings inside the country by the Mujahedeen, which threatened not only the leadership but the revolution itself. In July 1981 a three-year renewable military agreement was signed with the U.S.S.R. It provided for the training of Iranians in the Soviet Union, the extension of technical assistance and the loan of Soviet advisers to Iran.23 By November 1981 there were reports of Soviet experts in the security field arriving in Iran with the appropriate Farsi language skills. Their mission apparently was to help train the Iranian security service (Savama) and the revolutionary guards (Pasdaran).

The precise number of Soviet, as opposed to East-bloc, military advisers and technicians operating in Iran is difficult to ascertain. Since the revolution there have been an estimated 1,500-2,000 Soviet advisers and technicians of all types in Iran, and evidently some of these have been military.24 East-bloc advisers have accompanied the arms supplied. In addition, North Korea, a major arms supplier, has 300 military advisers in Iran.25

Though the distinction between the direct and indirect supply of arms is not always an easy one, what is clear is that the Soviet Union has gained some sort of foothold in Iran in the military-security area. Moreover, Soviet assistance has not been unconditional. We have noted the possibility that limitations on Iranian support for the Afghan resistance were extracted; this assistance might also account for the anomalous cases of restraint noted earlier. In addition, the Soviet Union has reportedly gained access to the radar-signal processing system of the F-14 in exchange for its assistance.26 Certainly the training of the Pasdaran risks the infiltration of Soviet nominees-such as, according to some reports, members of the Tudeh-and their use to further Soviet activities in Afghanistan.27 Furthermore, Soviet security assistance may allow the U.S.S.R. to dominate the flow of information regarding threats to the regime, and enable it to suppress those reports it considers unfavorable. Subsequently, Soviet protection may prove difficult to dislodge.

If this pattern of tolerance, reticence and tactical cooperation is evidence of anything, it is not of an equidistance between the two blocs. It suggests a willingness to defer to the U.S.S.R. when necessary and to exploit it when profitable. Whether the balance between these two inclinations can be maintained remains to be seen.


The Soviet Union was no more alert or insightful than the West about the causes of the revolution, but it saw in its course both opportunities and risks. The balance between these has not significantly changed since 1979, and the Soviets remain poised between the prospect of great benefits and the specter of defeat and rejection. They have had few illusions about controlling the revolution; deep social forces are not easily influenced and there can be no guarantee of a foreordained outcome. Precisely because the process is inherently a dynamic one, with no inevitable resting-point, it is also exploitable. Marginal Soviet influence-through coherence and good organizational discipline-can go a long way in this setting. Soviet policy has therefore been driven by a will to retain and expand a foothold for influencing the outcome of the revolutionary process.

It has sought to exploit anti-Western sentiment, strengthen anti-Western forces and establish itself as the defender of the revolution. It has wooed the Islamic regime, offered it assistance and, by infiltrating the society, sought to position itself to be able to influence future change. It has not hesitated to alternate inducements with implicit threats, or to voice its disappointment. Its minimum aim is to be in a position to prevent or veto the emergence of any regime which might be "pro-Western"-and this encompasses any regime which equates the superpowers-i.e., embracing nonalignment.

A benign interpretation of Soviet policy would view this as damage limitation-embracing the current Islamic regime for "fear of something worse." Perhaps the Soviets, too, discern no practical alternative in sight and are allowing for the possibility that an Islamic regime will become its permanent southern neighbor. In this view the U.S.S.R., seeing no alternative to Islam in Iran today, merely woos it to tame it and, in the process of trying to avoid less attractive possibilities, seeks a privileged position in post-revolutionary Iran.

Few would demur from the proposition that "the most salient consideration shaping Soviet policy toward Iran is Teheran's anti-American and anti-Western orientation."28 This was stated succinctly by Brezhnev in February 1981 at the 26th Party Congress. After several caveats relating to the revolution's "specific nature," which was "complex and contradictory," the Soviet leader concluded: "It is essentially an anti-imperialist revolution." It is its anti-Western feature that Moscow has sought to have internalized and institutionalized by the Iranians.

Whatever the U.S.S.R.'s doubts (and we shall return to these) there is little evidence that Moscow hesitates to exploit anti-Western trends as objectively pro-Soviet, and no sign of any but such a zero-sum approach to the superpower relationship. Iran's anti-status quo stance and the resultant pressure on Western positions in the Gulf is a fortuitous bonus. The turmoil that distracted attention from Afghanistan and saw a state of internal war in Iran was welcomed even if it detracted from an assumed Soviet interest, border security. A weakened and isolated Iran provided opportunities for Moscow, while Iran's anti-Western activity in the Gulf, for all its risks, was pregnant with possibility.

Intimations of Soviet doubts (evident in Brezhnev's qualifications) focused on the future roles of the clergy and Islam, which the U.S.S.R. had underestimated in the past and which might get out of hand. Acknowledging that Islam had the potential to be a means of "expressing social protest" or a "means of legitimizing the secular authorities" (as in Pakistan) or even a force for reaction (as in Afghanistan), Soviet analysts have argued the need for an assessment of "the real content of Islamic movements" with particular reference to their "class" composition. In the specific case of Iran, while conceding Khomeini's importance, Soviet commentators are unwilling to go further; they simply note that many progressive forces came together "under the banner of Islam" and that this gave the revolution "a special character."

In the last few years the Soviet Union has consistently sought to radicalize the regime in Iran and, in the process, to become its acknowledged protector. Internationally, the most well-known example is the hostage episode, during which Soviet broadcasts were inflammatory. Right up to the final hours of this crisis, Soviet publications were warning of an imminent American attack. Apart from diverting attention from Soviet activities in Iran and Afghanistan, this event contributed to Iran's international isolation and to the siege mentality of the regime. The more isolated commercially and diplomatically from the West, the more dependent Iran became on the U.S.S.R., especially for transit overland but also for trade.29 The more beleaguered and embattled the regime, the less likely the prospect of any voices being raised against Soviet activities. The hostage crisis was useful, and Tudeh leader Nureddin Kianoori admitted that his Party's support for the seizure was precisely "to block the normalization of relations with the U.S. which certain Iranian politicians want."30

It was reasonably easy to argue that, on the domestic front, the revolution needed to close ranks, that no group should monopolize it, and to underscore the Tudeh's demands to be included in a national front. It was also convincing to point to the U.S. threat to the revolution and conclude that those arguing for equidistance were guilty of treason. And it was but a short step to posit that support for the Afghan resistance was equally tarnished: "It is impossible to combat imperialism by supporting it on serious issues."31

It was probably through the alleged threats to the Iranian Revolution posed by U.S. assistance to the insurgents in Afghanistan that the Soviets obtained Teheran's acquiescence in the construction of a spy-station near that border.32 Iran's military weakness has not hurt the U.S.S.R. either. Unable to detect or deter Soviet air or even land incursions, the Iranians are in no position to stop the Soviets from crossing their territory en route to Afghanistan. Iran's conflict with Iraq, whatever its other implications for the Soviets, has denuded the northern border of troops and further exposed Iran to Soviet military power. The Soviet Union's pose as the protector of the revolution depends on a continuing Iranian perception of threats to the regime, especially on the cultivation of the theme of inveterate Western hostility to it. So long as the United States in particular is depicted as an imminent direct and indirect threat, the Soviet Union will be able to insist directly and through its domestic allies that any equation of the superpowers is suspect. Moscow's repeated admonitions that even-handedness is a mask for subservience toward the West and, as such, fundamentally hostile to the Soviet Union, may even come to be accepted by the Soviets themselves.33 This implies that any return to moderation, nationally and internationally, which is the prerequisite for a balanced relationship, would be unwelcome and possibly intolerable.

It is one thing to exacerbate anti-Western feeling and encourage a pro-Soviet orientation but quite another to be able to guarantee its continuation-much less permanence. It could be that the stridency of Soviet insistence on the Western threat denotes extreme sensitivity about the potential course of the revolution. A strong Iran, fortified by its revolutionary masses and message, could play a role in the region that hurts both superpowers but the U.S.S.R. more directly.

However unlikely in the short run, some such scenario must at least be considered by Soviet planners. This could account for Soviet attempts to mollify the mullahs. Moscow is clearly uncomfortable with the regime's suppression of "progressive" forces, the clerics' monopolization of the revolution, and the reactionary flavor of most government pronouncements and edicts. Soviet commentaries on Iranian politics are guarded, aware of the "contradictions" and apparently embarrassed by the regime's excesses. Sometimes, as in the Iran-Iraq war, Soviet analysts simply note the connection between the continuation of hostilities and Iran's domestic political considerations.

The possibility that the revolution might be swayed into an anti-Soviet orientation preoccupies the Soviets. Tolerant of Iran's activities in other domains, they have shown acerbity and concern where they see themselves directly affected. Reference has already been made to the unacceptability (even provocativeness) in Soviet eyes of the concept of equidistance. A recurring theme of Soviet complaints is the "artificial limit" which Iran has placed on economic and cultural contacts with the U.S.S.R.34 This aggrieved tone on occasions spills over into accusations that the regime is being taken over by conservative clerics acting in league with the bourgeois, monarchists and Americans to end its revolutionary character.35 The principal Soviet concern is any evidence of attempts to reintroduce a balanced orientation toward the two superpowers, and, domestically, to arrest any trend toward ever more radical (and often socialistic) measures. It is indicative of Soviet pretensions that Moscow can claim to be the injured party and feign stoical restraint over an issue on which the Iranians are themselves divided and seeking a resolution. In the West, such Soviet complaints are often treated not as evidence of the nature of Soviet claims vis-à-vis their neighbor, but as comforting reassurance that Moscow "too" is unhappy with the Iranian Revolution.


In the past four years the Soviets have usually refrained from clearcut criticism of the Khomeini regime. Only in mid-1979, when the government suppressed the Tudeh, was there scathing Soviet comment; the ban was lifted shortly thereafter. But since the regime began to take stronger measures against the Tudeh in the summer of 1981-culminating in the arrest of some of its leaders early in 1983-Soviet criticism has become more marked and now has a certain ominous ring, not only suggesting Soviet dissatisfaction with the regime but challenging its popular support: "Certainly, the Iranians themselves are not satisfied with their domestic situation. . . . "36 Such comment calls for a careful look at the possibilities for Soviet pressure on Iran, and at the tools and pretexts that might be employed.

Despite its posture of befriending the Islamic regime, the U.S.S.R. has never felt constrained to drop its interpretation of the 1921 Soviet-Iranian Treaty-which has been denounced by successive Iranian governments. On the contrary, the Soviets have insisted that the Treaty gives them a right to intervene in Iran, not merely in case of action by some third nation but when conditions there might threaten them, sometimes tying it to their claim as the protector of the revolution. The link is not accidental and its assertion is intended, and seen, as an implicit threat to Iran.

Besides a characteristic willingness to remind its neighbors of its power and an insistence that certain developments will be "unacceptable," how else can Moscow influence the course of events? What assets, if any, does it dispose of should it decide to modify, weaken or replace the regime in Teheran?

There is first the overwhelming military preponderance of the U.S.S.R. Soviet units in the Transcausasus, expanded and modernized in recent years, are available as an invasion force, as an instrument for limited objectives such as the seizure of territory in northern Iran, or simply to intimidate and impress. Special units like the airborne divisions could be dropped into Teheran within hours, whether to defend or dispatch a government. Soviet influence within the Iranian security or military forces could facilitate this, on the Afghan model of December 1979. Soviet military maneuvers could tie down Iranian forces on the northern frontiers, or make the prosecution of the war with Iraq, or assistance to the Afghan resistance, more difficult and onerous. Overflights and incursions slice away at the sovereignty of the government, which, once lost, may be difficult to reclaim. The Soviet Union has used military exercises on the border to deter anticipated American moves against Iran. Well short of an all-out invasion, the existence of proximate military power enables the U.S.S.R. to be a constant factor in the calculations of Teheran.

Second, the Soviet Union can play a significant role, in either direction, on the level of internal strife and dissidence within Iran. The Soviet attitude, for example, toward the Kurdish or Mujahedeen struggles against the Islamic government could make a decisive difference to either's success. (The Soviets have not been hostile to either, leaving open the possibility of using them to pressure an unfriendly government, and Soviet support for the Kurds has tended to coincide with periods of poor relations with Teheran.) This is true of any force opposed to the central government, be it tribal, ethnic (secessionist), or ideological. Soviet contiguity would facilitate the provision of arms, training and a sanctuary. The government thus has an incentive not to antagonize the Soviet Union lest it find its domestic opposition the object of Soviet generosity.

The positive value of Soviet goodwill is equally important. Soviet military power can help deter hostile acts against Iran from abroad, and can help stabilize the existing regime. In any event, the Soviet capacity to weaken or strengthen the Islamic regime exerts considerable psychological pressure on the central government to accommodate Soviet interests.

This brings us to the role of the Tudeh Party in Iran's circumscribed politics. While numerically small (perhaps 10,000), the Tudeh has expanded since the revolution and apparently infiltrated strategic sectors of industry and government. Its great advantage to Moscow is in its direct channel to Iranian society, which is denied the West. Its limited base is more than compensated for by the organization and ideological cohesiveness which make it disproportionately effective in the fluidity and confusion of Iran's politics. With Soviet assistance (financial, training, diplomatic), and in conjunction with a wing of the Fedayeen guerrillas, the Tudeh has had the freedom to influence the political milieu and debate in ways harmful to the West and advantageous to the Soviet Union. And in a succession struggle, the Tudeh, with other "progressive" forces or individuals, could be used to help cement a national front or to manufacture an "invitation" to third parties for fraternal assistance.

The Tudeh's identification with the U.S.S.R. has always limited its potential appeal in Iran. Nonetheless, with the brief exception in mid-1979 already noted, the Khomeini regime in its early years accepted Tudeh support and tolerated its activities. Since mid-1982, however, this policy has changed, initially as a result of changes in a conservative direction in the continuing power struggle among the Iranian clerics, and with greater intensity after Moscow's decision in late 1982 to resume arms shipments to Iraq. The recent arrest of Tudeh leaders, on charges of espionage for the U.S.S.R., follows on a number of measures within the past nine months to limit Iran's ties to the Soviet Union and to impose restraints on Soviet-related activities within Iran. But the subsequent release of many of the arrested leaders shows that the Khomeini regime is still moving carefully, and remains conscious of the leverage the Soviet Union continues to possess. Certainly Moscow will not let up in is efforts to expand its ties in Iran, working against any genuine policy of equidistance by the present Iranian regime and seeking to position itself for whatever the future may bring.


The future course of Soviet policy in Iran depends on several factors. Perhaps the foremost of these is the political evolution within Iran itself.

The received wisdom about Iran is that the clerical regime is firmly established without nationwide opposition capable of dislodging it or competing with it for the support of the masses. The death of Khomeini will test its strength, but the opposition groups can only make government difficult, not impossible. As presently constituted, the regime will be unable to revitalize the economy but it may not need to. Lowered expectations and continued oil revenues may allow time for the institutionalization of the revolution. In time, pragmatic considerations will lead to the revival of subsequent ties with the West-Europe and Japan at first. The revolution will run its course and find its own equilibrium between the two blocs. The result may be a more mature relationship with fewer illusions.

This "stability and equidistance" scenario may underestimate the intensity of conflict within the regime itself both on domestic policy and on Iran's foreign orientation. The more radical clergy, sympathetic to socialism and radical measures domestically, is keener on closer relations with the U.S.S.R. and the Eastern bloc. The more conservative, traditionalist clerics oppose communism and the left at home and would seek a more genuine balance between the blocs. In recent months the divisions between these two factions have become more pronounced. A number of domestic measures aimed at "liberalization" (support of free enterprise and the individual's legal rights), the measures against the Tudeh, and a less strident tone toward the West suggest the temporary eclipse of the radical faction.

It is possible that the danger of a drift toward Soviet tutelage was at the root of this shift. For the clerics value the regime's security as much as anyone else. It is also possible that disgust with Moscow's continuing activities in Afghanistan, together with its renewal of arms sales to Baghdad, intensified conservative determination to seek a balance. What is clear is that neither the clergy nor the regime is monolithic. The power struggle is not decided. The revolution's consensus is broad enough to accommodate quite divergent views of domestic and foreign policy. And these will be determined as a result of a process of competition, not from any natural consensual evolution.

In sum, the optimistic scenario assumes, inter alia, that domestic forces will allow a drift toward equidistance and that the U.S.S.R. will be unwilling or unable to stop it.

There is another equally plausible scenario. This would see a long, divisive and costly struggle for power within the revolution's ranks. The principle of clerical rule itself could become the subject of dispute. In any case the clerical factions would seek allies among secular and armed elements: the Pasdaran, the armed forces, and even the cadres mobilized for the war (the Basij). A long drawn-out struggle would erode the revolutionary consensus and draw in various dissident groups. The left, including the Mujahedeen, Fedayeen, and Tudeh, could in this setting grow in strength-less from a national base than from the continuing radicalization of the young and unemployed.

A third possibility would be a discrediting of the clergy and their ouster by an opposition coalition composed of the army, the minorities, the middle class and the left. The strength of this grouping would be in its capacity to revive the economy and to play on the weariness of a populace satiated by bloody excess; its weakness, the lack of a national network to compete with the mosques.

Obviously, these three possibilities would present very different pictures in terms of Soviet interests. A genuine policy of equidistance, combined with a trend away from radical measures, would be hard for Moscow to swallow, but so long as the Khomeini regime stops short of actual provocation, the Soviet reaction would probably be limited to repeated protests and criticism along the lines that have become evident in the last nine months. Essentially, the Soviets would be watching and waiting to see whether an equilibrium developed.

The second possibility, on the other hand, might well draw the Soviet Union into a much more active policy of pressure and even attempts at intervention. And the third-which would almost surely be regarded as contrary to Soviet interests and might take on a pro-Western tinge-could drive the Soviet Union to act in some dramatic fashion to undermine such a new regime.

The future of Iran's politics is unclear. Unless stabilized, its dynamics could increase the pressures on the U.S.S.R. to act in support of one faction against another. The principal events to watch in the future are the succession struggle after Khomeini's death, the role of the Tudeh and the Soviet response, and Iran's decision on the major arms purchases which will soon be necessary.

A second factor which could crystallize Soviet policy in Iran is East-West relations. Continued or intensified tension could encourage the Soviets to seek a definitive solution in Iran or a position of strength as a means of counter-leverage in the West or in response to Western activities elsewhere. In either case Soviet policy would be expressed indirectly, through an intensified cultivation of bases of power within and around the country rather than in a direct military threat.

Third, there is the possibility of an overall hardening of Soviet policy as the Andropov regime settles in. The U.S.S.R. may become more impatient to realize its investments in the Third World and to consolidate them by concentrating on several key countries. It may demand more for its assistance in the future and raise the price for recalcitrant regimes. This would be consistent with a policy that cuts through the undergrowth of regional politics.

Plainly, Moscow feels the sting of its reverses in the Middle East, over the past year. Its supply of new Soviet-operated arms to Syria is one indication of a more activist posture. And its renewed arms transfers to Iraq point in the same direction, possibly directed at seeking an enhanced Soviet role in any peace negotiations but also putting military pressure on Iran, possibly to demonstrate the price of Iranian recalcitrance in negotiating with the Kamal regime in Afghanistan. And, within Iran itself, the Soviets might begin a more activist course in response to the current conservative and anti-Soviet trend, for example by cultivating the Mujahedeen, whose radical ideology would certainly be more compatible with the Soviet self-image. Their demonstrated capacity to harry the clerics could be a potent form of pressure if it were augmented. Such a policy would be less long-term and more activist than in the past, but it might be seen as a proper response both to trends within Iran and in East-West relations.

The difficulty for the U.S.S.R. is that the dynamics of change in revolutionary societies, while lending themselves to exploitation, cannot result in an early or definitive stabilization. Any number of regimes in Iran could prove unattractive to the Soviets: an Iran rampaging through the region under its present masters; an Iran prey to perennial civil conflicts; an institutionalized clerical regime hostile to communism and exporting Islam; a strongly nationalist-leftist regime. The more open the possibilities, the more the Soviets may be tempted to justify their behavior by reference to the dangers of regression.

In coming years the U.S.S.R. will become more Muslim. This alone will increase its attention to its southern neighbors. Among them, Iran and Turkey have the only borders that the U.S.S.R. has not extended since 1918-and this is not for want of trying. As a multinational empire the Soviet Union claims a particular interest in the lands bordering it, particularly where the ethnic composition is similar. Unlike its policy in the Arab world, where it has supported integralist movements, the Soviet Union has not been supportive of a strong or stable Iran on its borders.37 Such strength or stability could result in a wilful neighbor, and Iranian (Shi'a) unity could affect the U.S.S.R.'s Azeri-Shi'a population. The Soviet Union therefore has consistently in this century sought to weaken Iran, opposing virtually any substantive (not merely military) relationship with the West. Only after attempts at intimidation failed did Stalin's successors learn to live with the Shah. However, their definition of "good neighborliness" has always been tightly related to the existing power realities. As Iran has lurched into crisis the proposition has surfaced anew that equidistance (i.e., nonalignment) is unacceptable and equating the superpowers, unfriendly.

Iran remains the single most important and vulnerable Soviet neighbor where the opportunities for gains are high and the risks limited. Contiguous to the U.S.S.R., Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, Iran, as the largest state, is the logical point for entry into Gulf politics. Isolated, militarily weak and protected by no foreign patron or constituency, Iran is vulnerable to Soviet military power on two borders. The northern parts of the country, traditionally centers of pro-Soviet sentiment, cannot have shed their inclination in the period since 1979, which has seen an increase in disaffection from the central government. Whether by reference to the need to quarantine the Islamic contagion or to the more traditional formula of stabilized borders, the U.S.S.R. does not lack legal or historic rationalizations for its "legitimate" interest in Iran.38 As the need to consolidate its position in Afghanistan grows, so will the importance of Iran to the Soviet Union.

From the advent of the Islamic Republic, Western governments have been extremely sensitive to the need to treat Teheran carefully lest, by cornering the regime, they drive it into the Soviet camp. Caution and hope contributed to an underestimation and misjudgment of the dynamics of revolutionary politics. The United States initially went very far toward accepting Khomeini, even providing Teheran with spare parts for the military and specialized fuels in 1979. But the hostage episode radicalized the revolution, drove the moderates underground, ditched any balance in foreign policy and confirmed the West as whipping boy of the revolution.

The outbreak of the conflict with Iraq in September 1980, coming during the hostage crisis, was interpreted by Iranians as an act of collusion between Washington and Baghdad to threaten the revolution. Circumstantial evidence, such as Washington's unwillingness to condemn Iraq's attack forthrightly, was used by Iranians to justify continued hostility toward the United States.

In fact, although other Western nations (notably France) have been active in furnishing arms to Iraq, the United States has preserved a clear posture of neutrality toward the Iran-Iraq war, resisting any restoration of relations with Baghdad which might be misinterpreted by Teheran and limiting its supplies to a recent very small sale of helicopters of no substantial military value.

At the present time many issues in dispute between Iran and the United States are being dealt with at the Claims Tribunal in the Hague. This is a process which could take several years, and several critical policy decisions may be required well before the work is completed.

More broadly, the overall posture of the United States toward the Iranian Revolution, since the trauma of the hostage crisis, has been one of passivity, if not neglect. It is one thing-and sound as far as it goes-for the United States to avoid any statement or action that could be construed as interference with the revolution or with the policies of the Khomeini regime. But in the light of recent trends in Iran's domestic policy and posture toward the Soviet Union, both the United States and other Western nations need to keep the situation under very close review and to consider whether there are other constructive actions that might be taken.

U.S. interests in Iran are complex, requiring a balance among several considerations: deterrence of Soviet invasion or subversion; the avoidance of the collapse and fragmentation of the country; and the prevention of a slide toward the U.S.S.R. At the same time, the United States needs to stop the export of the revolution to the Gulf.

So far the Islamic Republic has been hostile toward the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Rapid Deployment Force and the Reagan peace initiative of September 1, 1982. This has confronted the Gulf states with the problem of how to live with Iranian primacy in the Gulf. American assistance to these states can go hand in hand with the attempt to open a channel for dialogue with Iran. Over time a gradual return to the historic perception of a serious Soviet threat could incline this regime or its successor to the time-honored strategy of offsetting such a proximate Soviet threat with ties to a distant and friendly supporting power. For all its moral rectitude, the regime's recent actions show that it can be sensitive to criticisms of its human rights record, suggesting that it is not entirely resistant to some outside pressure, or to some change in its posture.

One clear and necessary course is to broaden, as much as possible, trade and other contacts between Western nations and Iran. Several European nations, and Japan as well, are now both increasing their trade with Iran and renewing their support of projects interrupted by the revolution. And, since the ending of the U.S. embargo imposed during the hostage crisis, there is a substantial American component in this trade, through third-country channels.

All of this should now be encouraged, if possible in close coordination between Washington and the other capitals involved-or at least with a full exchange of information. Such trade ties can help to further a posture of genuine equidistance by the Khomeini regime, and an increased presence of Western representatives within Iran should permit a progressively better understanding of developments there. Any early restoration of normal diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran is hardly in the cards, and there should be no effort to increase the small number of private Americans, including journalists, who are now able to visit the country or work there. But at the same time, both the American government and private groups should make greater efforts to communicate with the 30,000-plus Iranian students now in the United States, who may well constitute important links in future relations.

There is, of course, a difficult question concerning the degree and types of contact maintained by U.S. and Western representatives with various Iranian exile groups. The Khomeini regime is highly sensitive to such contacts, and any indication that they were being used to further opposition plans would be extremely damaging. Indeed, the United States and other Western nations must continue to adhere rigorously to a position of noninterference in Iranian internal affairs, and this posture should be reaffirmed constantly through whatever channels are effective to the Khomeini regime and perhaps also to Moscow, if only to allay the anxieties of the more imaginative planners in the Kremlin.

Turkey and Pakistan should be encouraged to build on their present excellent relationships with Iran. Both are now assisting Iran for sound reasons of national self-interest and regional cooperation, motivated as well by Islamic ties. Their influence can be both stabilizing and constructive toward a genuine policy of equidistance.

With respect to the Iran-Iraq war, there are a number of measures that the United States could undertake immediately. A public declaration in favor of the restoration of the pre-war status quo (together with a condemnation of the resort to force) would be helpful vis-à-vis the Iranians. Suggestions about confidence-building measures between the two adversaries, such as the thinning out of forces along the Shatt-al-Arab, the non-deployment of certain types of weapons systems along the waterway, and proposals for a peacekeeping force between the two adversaries, might counter the impression that Washington's interests are served by the continuation of hostilities.

Second, greater sensitivity to the plight of the million and a half Afghan refugees in Iran and measures for international relief would demonstrate American goodwill in an area where U.S.-Iranian interests converge.

Third, the United States should consider an extension of certain types of credit facilities for Iranian food purchases, which it customarily provides to its customers.

The war with Iraq seems unlikely to be settled soon. While it continues, it would be unwise for the United States to respond to continuing Iranian overtures for arms supplies-or even to get into selling arms to both sides on some balanced basis. (European nations might be in a different position, having in the past tended to deal more with Iraq.)

But if there were to be a durable ceasefire, even without a final settlement, the picture might change. Iran will need assistance both in the reconstruction of the war zone and in re-equipping its air force. The latter until now has been exclusively supplied and trained by the United States. Iran's choices will be limited to either of the superpowers, France, a European joint venture, or a Third World supplier such as Israel or India. Considerations of language, training performance and speed of delivery will make the United States a formidable candidate as supplier. If such a request should come-directly or indirectly-it should be carefully considered. Appropriate aircraft, deployed against possible threats from the North and East, could improve Iran's security and serve Western interests. In the context of a de facto end to the war, and, clearly, if there should be a settlement, a Western willingness to meet Iran's security needs would be constructive. At the same time, an indication of a Western interest-perhaps in the form of an aid consortium-in assisting in postwar reconstruction of Iran's infrastructure might be helpful.


There is little realistic hope of a quick breakthrough in relations with Iran. But this is no cause for a total write-off either. The United States has lived with radical regimes before and these (like Algeria) have often shown a capacity, as they evolve, to distinguish between their rhetorical and practical needs. The task today is the management of relations, however attenuated, pending evolution within Iran.

Revolution, as in Iran, is not a trend in the region but instability most assuredly is. Containing it and defending the region starts in Iran. There will be no early end to Iran's instability and therefore some contacts must be maintained. There can be no Western solution in Iran, nor should any Eastern solutions be accepted.

Western governments need therefore to follow developments in Iran and to consider them on a continuous basis. They need to define carefully the conditions of Soviet activity which pass the threshold of acceptability and to improve their means of detecting them. Western governments should then make it clear to Moscow what they consider to be inappropriate behavior. A precondition for a general Western policy toward Iran is a sharper awareness that events in that country need constant scrutiny and that this should remain high on the agenda in East-West relations.

2 Eric Rouleau, "Khomeini's Iran," Foreign Affairs, Fall 1980, p. 19.

3 And one-tenth of its currency reserves, according to official Iranian figures. Majlis speaker Hashimi Rafsanjani, Teheran Home Service, October 22, 1982, in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, ME/7165/A/3, October 5, 1982.

4 According to Prime Minister Musavi there are also a further 1.5 million Afghan refugees. November 7, 1982.

5 The Financial Times, November 1, 1982. Due to a tripling of oil prices in 1979, the Iranians with one-third of their former level of exports can generate the same revenues.

6 Teheran Home Service, October 17, 1982, in ME/7160/A/3, October 19, 1982.

7 "The concept of exporting revolution is not one of resorting to force to impose the revolution on others; it is to spread and communicate thoughts and a thesis of action so as to establish Islam in Muslim countries." Majlis speaker Hashimi Rafsanjani, Teheran in Arabic, February 4, 1983, in ME/7256/A/6-7, February 7, 1983.

10 R. W. Apple, Jr. records this on a recent visit. International Herald Tribune, November 15, 1982.

11 Ayatollah Montazeri, Khomeini's choice as successor. Teheran Home Service, 10:30, January 1, 1983, in ME/7221/A/5, January 3, 1983.

12 They are explained by Rouleau in "Khomeini's Iran," op. cit., p. 18, and relate to the Tudeh's early support for Khomeini dating from 1964, their support for the Islamic Republic and their vehement hostility to the U.S.

13 See International Herald Tribune, November 23, 1981, November 15, 1982; The Sunday Times (London), January 3, 1982; Le Monde, January 7, 1982; L'Express, August 13-19, 1982.

14 For example by Interior Minister Nateg Nouri in Pakistan in January 1983.

15 See Prime Minister Moussavi, Le Monde, December 12, 1981, and President Ali Khamenei, Le Monde, February 16, 1982; Newsweek, February 22, 1982.

16 Moscow is accused of trading arms for the release of Iraqi communists by Iranian newspapers like Ettela at. See Teheran in Arabic, December 21, 1982, in ME/7217/A/4, December 24, 1982. See also the extremely critical commentary by Teheran in Turkish, January 19, 1983, in ME/7239/A/8-9, January 24, 1983.

17 See Le Monde, January 25, 1983.

18 Text of Foreign Ministry note, Tehrean, January 1, 1983, in ME/7221/A/3-4, January 3, 1983.

19 See The Times, November 29, 1982. See also International Herald Tribune, November 30, 1982.

20 Time magazine, March 8, 1982, p. 32.

21 It is a reasonable assumption that the Tudeh information came from the KGB at the Soviet Embassy. See Le Monde, July 2, 1980; International Herald Tribune, July 4, 1980.

22 See respectively Le Monde, January 5, 1981; Aviation Week and Space Technology, November 3, 1980; and Newsweek, August 9, 1982.

23 The text of this agreement is reproduced in the Iranian paper, Iran Azad (Paris), November 20, 1982. This is a publication of opponents of the regime. The text appears authentic and has not been challenged. See L'Express, December 3, 1982, p. 65.

24 This estimate seems to be held in common by U.S. and European officials, see International Herald Tribune, March 9, 1982; The New York Times, October 31, 1982.

25 North Korea has provided 40% of the estimated $2 billion of arms bought by Iran, according to official U.S. estimates. The New York Times, December 19, 1982.

26 The New York Times, October 31, 1982.

27 Afghani exiles report a circuitous relationship between pro-Soviet elements in Iran, including the Tudeh, the Pasdaran and the radical clergy, and Soviet activities in Afghanistan. They note that friendly Iranian mullahs help certify the Islamic credentials of Afghanis trained by the Pasdaran. They then return to Afghanistan, specifically in the Hazarah region, to work for the Soviet Union. Personal interviews, January 1983.

28 Alvin Rubenstein, "The Soviet Union and Iran Under Khomeini," International Affairs (London), Autumn 1981, p. 617.

29 In 1981 Iran-Soviet trade reached $1.1 billion, the highest ever. This included 2.2 million tons of oil to the U.S.S.R. In addition, there was significant barter trade with the Eastern bloc.

30 See Tudeh leader Nureddin Kianoori's comments in Le Monde, April 18, 1980.

32 Time, March 8, 1982, p. 32.

33 This has been a consistent theme in Soviet publications since 1979. For recent examples see: Moscow Radio in Persian, July 6, 1982, in SU/7075/A4/6, July 12, 1982; August 19, 1982, in SU/7113/A4/1, August 25, 1982; September 9, 1982, in SU/7132/A4/1-2, September 16, 1982; October 8, 1982, in SU/7156/A4/2, October 14, 1982; November 19, 1982, in SU/7192/A4/1, November 25, 1982.

34 See for example, Moscow in Persian, October 1, 1982, in SU/7150/A4/1, October 7, 1982; October 22, 1982, in SU/7166/A4/1-2, October 26, 1982; January 6, 1983, in SU/7234/A4/3, January 18, 1982.

36 Moscow in Persia (commentary by Vera Lebedeva), November 10, 1982, in SU/7186/A4/3, November 18, 1982.

37 The parallels with Turkey are striking. Soviet support for movements weakening it has been consistent. The Armenian Secret Liberation Army is a recent manifestation. Turkey's position has been stronger due to its secularism, and to Soviet inhibitions stemming both from its martial prowess and its NATO membership.

38 For example the 1907 Condominium with Great Britain; or the de facto division of Iran into spheres of influence during World War II; or the disputed interpretation of the 1921 treaty.



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  • Shahram Chubin, an Iranian national, is now Director of Research, Programme for Strategic and International Security Studies, The Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva. He was Assistant Director for Regional Security Studies, International Institute for Strategic Studies (London), 1977-81, and is the author of The Role of the Outside Powers in the Persian Gulf.
  • More By Shahram Chubin